Family Business: An Insider’s Perspective
By Deborah Gantos
[Editor’s note: This article is a composite of research, experience and an interview with David Castlegrant, a business services consultant, entrepreneur and President of a family business: David Castlegrant & Associates]
ST: When you think of the words “family business,” what comes to mind?
DC: Two words come to mind: familiarity and comfort. When I think of familiarity, I mean there is a deeper trust among family members. The downside of that is familiarity can “breed contempt.” Spouses, siblings, offspring and extended family may have some deep personal issues they carry into the business. Lack of respect or not taking time to really listen are just a few things that can cause poor communication. Comfort means the relationship is rooted in familiarity and what is known. Origin begins in the family, which is already established and the relationship works into the business.
ST: What are some of the positive aspects of a family business?
DC: We often hear and read about all the negative aspects of conducting business within a family, but there are quite a few good things.
A positive thing is owners are able to spend more time with their spouse, sister, brother, father or mother.
There is a unified esprit de corps. Sharing experiences strengthens ties and having a common goal gives owners, and oftentimes employees, strength of purpose. Another positive aspect of family owned businesses is family members often share in the financial success of the business. The more the collective puts into it, the more the collective will get out of it.
Also, as a business owner, you can be captain of your own ship. There is a sense of continuity from generation to generation. It is heartening to know something of yourself will continue after you are no longer around. Hopefully, each generation should respectfully learn from the past and should be responsible to investigate NEW ideas, to be up with the times and continually reinvent the business. It is helpful for the younger generation to bring in new knowledge to enhance the nuances of the business.
ST: You own a family business and share leadership with your spouse. How does that work for you?
DC: Every relationship has its challenges and rewards. One of the rewards is your spouse or family member will most likely give you an honest opinion, rather than an employee who may be just catering to you to appease you and further their own agendas and careers.
On the other hand, it seems that what happens at the workplace and at home sometimes overlap, and this can cause some differences in opinion. But with negotiation and lots of patience, it can be a very advantageous venture. In family businesses, the workload can be shared and since a spouse or relatives are at work with you, they can understand why things can be difficult and frustrating.
ST: What are the most common things that family business owners seek help from a consultant?
DC: One thing I help with is transitional strategies: going from one generation to the next. I also help devise and implement methods to improve interfamily communications. One of my roles is to act as a counselor and a facilitator. Since I can be objective, I can act as an impartial intermediary to identify and resolve issues and sticking points. Business owners often ask for my help on financial, marketing and management matters.
If I were to sum up my advice to family business owners it would be:
Have an open mind, don’t prejudge, really listen and hear what the person who is addressing you is saying. Wait until the other person is finished speaking: hear each other.
ST: Since the focus of this interview is on positive things, how would you briefly summarize the main negatives you observe in family business ownership?
DC: Sometimes there are no boundaries between work and home. If someone has a bad day at work, it carries into the home life. People may have a decent personal relationship to begin with, but it becomes marred when business issues are carried back home, when all the partner wants is to have a good dinner and just watch TV. Another negative issue is the work and effort required to run a business means the hours are generally many more than a 9 to 5 job.
ST: Do you have anything else you would like to say?
DC: Obviously, when you look at the millions of family businesses in the United States, people are doing many “right” things. Family businesses are the backbone of our country and they will continue to prosper in the future.
Surplus Today would like to thank David Castlegrant, Family Business Consultant, for this interview.